“The wortht delivery,” as Tyson lisped it, “in the hithtory of speeching.”
Perhaps the most surprising element to Tyson’s belated discovery of his
artistic soul is that, on reflection, it isn’t all that surprising after
all. Although once and long dismissed as a raging Caliban of a dunce, he
always struck me as a very bright and sensitive man who had been
desensitised by his unspeakably brutal Brooklyn childhood. He grew up to
commit a crime for which there is no semblance of an excuse.
But those who styled him a monster long before he did time for rape and
mistook Evander Holyfield’s earlobe for an energy snack seemed too glibly to
disregard the dehumanising effects of watching his mother die in screaming
agony from untreated cancer, and being viciously bullied by older boys who
tore the heads of his beloved pigeons and taunted him, thanks to that lisp,
as “fairy boy”.
Those bullies may now wonder whether his nickname was devolved from the
cockney rhyming slang term “Iron hoof”, such is the stereotyping of the male
hoofer. Published in Wednesday’s Daily Mail, for example, was
this sentence concerning the dancer, choreographer and Strictly judge
Bruno Tonioli’s flirtation, long ago, with hallucinogens.
“He eventually found himself crying in a cinema,” it revealed of the occasion
Tonioli emerged from an LSD-induced blackout, “watching repeat screenings of
Barbra Streisand’s musical comedy Hello, Dolly!, still wrapped
in a fur coat.” Could it get any gayer than that?
As one of the most infamously straight men alive, Tyson would probably be
secure enough to take roles from which previous ex-fighters who tried their
luck as actors might have baulked.
Jake LaMotta played a barman in the film noire classic The Hustler, and
a later middleweight champion took the same route, though I’ve never seen a
Marvelous Marvin Hagler movie or met anyone who has. Yet only Tyson, one
feels, would take the lead in Les Cage Aux Folles.
Whether any boxing champ has ever before become a star of musicals on the
Broadway or West End stage is unlikely (metamorphoses of the kind tend not
to evade the notice).
But lack of precedent is no reason to assume that it cannot be done, or that
Tyson wouldn’t knock ’em dead as Captain Von Trapp (he would hardly need the
whistle to bring those kids to order), The Producers’s Max
Bialystock, or even – cast to type here given his track record as a voice
coach – Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady.
One thing in all this confusion does at least seem plain. Reasoning that even
if he has changed, he hasn’t changed that much, even the bravest theatre
critics such as our own Charles Spencer will pull their punches if Mike
Tyson floats like a butterball turkey in the dance numbers, and sings like a
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